Antarctic Dreaming

Antarctic Dreaming, Irene Schroder and Ramonda Te Maiharoa / Niho o te Taniwha – Southland Art Gallery and Musuem opened 24 October 2013 – 24 November

Four young men from Stewart Island were among the crew of the whaler ‘Atlantic’ which made landfall in Antarctica in January 1895.
With their footprint on the ice these young men marked history – although for them it was just another landing.

Imagine the stories they brought back. Imagine their amazed families listening, creating in their minds a faraway icy continent made out of the language of the tales that they heard, remembered, then told and retold down the generations.

Irene Schroder Cape Adare trilogy (3 pieces)

One of these young men was Irene’s father’s uncle.
A generation later, in the 1920’s Irene’s father went as a fisherman with Norwegian whalers to the Ross Sea.
Irene says simply, ‘I followed my father on his Great Adventure.’
In January 2012, Irene and Ramonda, both daughters of southern Maori fishermen, made a 28-day journey in the wake of their forefathers on their own ‘Great Adventure.’

Their lived experience is available to us through their art.
Allusive and thoughtful, this work has the strength of oral history in its immediacy and vividness; it tells amazing stories and asks important questions.

Without the human voice reciting the treasures of memory, without human art, how else would we know who we are, and by what paths we have come to be here?
Irene and Ramonda are tangata whenua. They are themselves part of a longer, ancient narrative, in their whakapapa.

In their work they are telling stories about history, identity and human endeavour. This art asserts the immediacy of both present and past. It keeps the past alive as a path, by which to revisit and connect, to explore and understand the lives of forefathers. The ancient waka are still travelling. These are precious links.

Each artist uses the language of her chosen medium. Although at first sight these might seem poles apart, there are correspondences of meaning and syntax between their languages. One works with the oldest material known to man, clay, the earth itself. The other works with twenty-first century technology.

Ramonda Te Maiharoa , Antartica , digital montage canvas

Between them they create a meta-narrative of place and memory and ancestry.
It tells of exploration, continuance, tenacity and endurance.
It poses hard questions about permanence, fragility, conservation, mindfulness.

You might first look at Irene’s work and think – these are too simple, it’s just a rolled-out piece of clay with colour splashed about, not very tidy. Look a bit longer, deeper. This clay is rich. The glazes are beautiful. Every mark has meaning.

If you touch the surface you might experience the hazardous nature of ice or the fluid grace of water – then wonder how soft clay could be turned to ice by fire?
You might be touching the Ross ice shelf, and with it the whole lived and received experience of the artist. You might connect with her history and your own, with this planet itself.

You might read what is there, use your imagination. The clay holds a map, indicating direction and framing the narration of a journey, showing places, names, dates, the dotted-line spoor of the explorer. It is simple and schematic, like a message drawn with a stick on sand, or on ice. The soft clay of its making is hardened to permanence by fire. It holds a history of human experience in the footprints of people.
The rolled clay yields meaning on many levels. It might be a scroll, or an iceberg, or the wall of an Antarctic hut that curves to embrace the barely-sketched lineaments of an explorer. The clay holds a human story. There is warmth in it.

Ramonda’s hyper-real montages of images and afterimages work in quite the opposite way. Using the resources of technology to hand, Ramonda works with irony through direct juxtaposition of images, builds up layers of meaning, inviting comparisons.
Her collages or montages are delicate yet forceful, melancholy and mordantly witty, as sharp and clear as the air of Antarctica, the colours bright as the sun’s reflection on ice.

It is at once documentation, critique, satire and cry of grief. Through seemingly irrational jolts of juxtaposition the manipulated images speak to the mind in the manner of poetry – allusive, subtle, resonant.

This art makes us question our own nature as human beings, our assumptions of superiority over the landscape and its inhabitants. It raises questions of right and privilege, conservation, tourism, exploitation and kaitiakitanga. Do we know as much as we think we do? How real is our accepted image of our world, of ourselves in relation to this planet?

Being able to see the expression in a baby chimp’s eye on TV brings us no closer to true knowledge of nature, or humanity. We are forgetting, for instance, the languages of natural objects, fabrics and equipment made by hand – woollen clothing, leather, canvas, oilskin, natural rope – now as far superseded as the distance between the techniques used by Irene and Ramonda in the telling of their parallel stories.
Yet the difference is only in equipment – their idiosyncratic languages correspond – they reinforce each other. Their work is their story. Theirs is a direct and frankly personal approach, in their authentic voice.

I think that if you make art with knowledge gained through your own experience, you can stand by it always. It has integrity. The works transfer idea from mind to matter, and matter to mind, in the clearest and most economical way.

Cilla McQueen
October 2013

Ramonda te Maiharoa (Waitaha) and Irene Mura Schroder ( Waitaha, Kati Mamoe, Ngai Tahu) are the daughters of Bluff fishermen who went on a 28 day expedition on the Spirit of Enderby to the Ross Sea ,McMurdo Sound and the Sub Antarctic Islands. Ramonda uses digital montage and Irene clay to tell stories about the explorers of the heroic age of exploration 1898 -1917.
Ramonda turns penguins and seals into voyeurs on the human activities of Scott base from such vantages as a tourist cabin, while Irene’s clay scraffitto tells tales of a vanished heroic past depicting such things as Scott’s bunk and the provisions of the hut the men wintered over in.
9am – 5pm Monday to Friday
10am – 5pm Saturday to Sunday

Queens Park
108 Gala Street

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